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Showing posts from March, 2020

How Swarming Bacteria Actively Use Physics to Avoid Danger

“Bacteria always find new ways to manipulate their environment to protect themselves,” says Harshitha Kotian, a PhD candidate at the Center for Nano Science and Engineering (CeNSE), Indian Institute of Science (IISc).

Like many physics students, Kotian once thought research on bacteria and antibiotics should be left to the biologists and chemists. Now she’s part of an interdisciplinary research team led by Prof. Manoj Varma from CeNSE and Prof. Varsha Singh from the department of Molecular Reproduction, Development and Genetics at IISc that recently uncovered how the multidrug resistant bacterium Pseudomonas aeruginosa uses basic physics to avoid antibiotics.

P. aeruginosa is known for its ability to cause sepsis and other serious infections when a person’s immune system is already compromised. They can colonize in many different environments, including on the surfaces of hospital equipment, and they’re dangerously resistant to many different antibiotics.

This new research, published i…

Why do we live in a three-dimensional world?

Until something disrupts the rhythm of life (or you’re in the car with a five-year-old), most of us don’t stop to analyze why things are the way they are. We’re too busy navigating life to step back and ponder our reality. But let’s try it for a few minutes.


We live in a universe that physicists describe as having 3+1 dimensions–three dimensions in space and one in time. But was a 3D world a foregone conclusion? Could complex life have emerged and survived in a 2+1 (2D) world? This question is at the heart of a paper recently published in the journal Physical Review Research by James Scargill, a theorist at the University of California, Davis.

Some scientists have proposed that a universe with three spatial dimensions is the most stable kind of universe or has other physical advantages. This may be the case, but physicists haven’t been able to show it mathematically. Another way to approach this question is to add a bit of philosophy. The anthropic approach starts by recognizing tha…

Turning “Smart Clothing” into Wearable Apparel

The future of clothing is electronic. Along with color and size, you’ll probably be able to choose clothes based on what they do—as determined by the sensors, indicators, and power sources embedded within them. Many researchers expect that such “smart clothing” will revolutionize at least some aspects of medicine and fashion. But in the age of leggings and stretch jeans, I have to ask: Will smart clothes be comfortable?

Thankfully, scientists are people too, and the comfort requirement hasn’t been lost on them. In a recent paper published in the journal Matter, a team of researchers from the University of Windsor (UWindsor) in Canada debuted a new approach to creating textiles that are smart and stretchable, soft, and wearable.

Electronics are traditionally rigid and hard. Fabrics are traditionally flexible and soft. Electronics have smooth metallic surface. Fabrics are composed of twisting, looping fibers that embrace empty space. One of the key challenges to achieving smart material…

New Spectra Comic: Super Special

Lucy and her Tesla Junior High classmates take a trip from Indiana to LIGO in Hanford, WA. Due to an unforeseen event, the laser goes offline right before the birth of a supernova. Follow spectra as she doubles up to undergo her biggest mission yet to collect gravitational waves from a rare exploding star.



Visit the Physics Central Website to view/download the spectra comic and to revisit past issues. To preorder physical copies email James Roche at roche@aps.org



- Rose Villatoro

The Turbulent Relationship Between Sand Dunes

Fields of gently sloping sand dunes may look quiet and passive in photographs, but the serene patterns may be defined by turbulent negotiations. That’s the conclusion reached by scientists from the University of Cambridge in the UK who have spent the last few years studying how dunes interact with one another. The findings, published in the journal Physical Review Letters, offer new insight on a landscape that attracts tourists, threatens shipping lanes, buries highways, and colors the surface of Mars.

Sand dunes are formed by strong winds or flowing water. Desert dunes and underwater dunes have differences, of course, but their formation can be described by essentially the same physics–the interaction between particles of sand, fluid in motion, and the environment.

Dunes usually occur in vast fields that evolve and migrate over time. They’ve been known to bury forests and hide the remnants of entire cities. Dunes hold secrets of their own too. Secrets of structure, motion, and inter…

Why researchers are creating “human yarn” and turning it into textile

The phrase “human textiles” might conjure up thoughts of a creepy fashion show or disturbing line of bed linens, but that’s not where this story is going. These textiles represent a cutting-edge research effort to create medical products from biological components that are native to the human body.

From sutures that help wounds heal to grafts that bypass damaged blood vessels, textiles are invaluable and common medical tools. But there is a downside. Human immune systems often consider medical materials, especially those intended to be permanent, as foreign to the body. This can lead to inflammation and rejection.

A team of researchers led by Nicolas L’Heureux at the University of Bordeaux/INSERM is working on a new kind of medical textile that they hope will fly below the immune system’s radar. In tissue engineering research published earlier this month in the journal Acta Biomaterialia, the team introduced a completely biological human yarn that can be twisted, woven, braided, or kn…